Brandt laughed. Ben always got straight to the point, which was probably why he’d shown up here.


He took a long pull off his beer. “To be honest, I ain’t exactly sure why I’m here. I just got done talkin’ to Samantha, Landon’s mom, and she left me with a feeling I can’t shake.”

“Like what?”

“Like…maybe she’s gotten used to bein’ away from Landon and would like to continue that when they let her out of jail.”

Ben whistled. “No shit?”

“That’s the thing. Samantha didn’t come right out and say it, I don’t even know if she was hinting around or if I somehow misread it. And it ain’t like I can talk to anybody in my family about it.”

“What about Jessie?”

“Her stipulation was no information on Samantha for the duration of this temporary situation. So if it turns out to be a longer temporary situation than four months, and if Samantha decides she’d rather let us raise Landon…” He sighed. “Us, meaning me raising Landon with some help from Dalton, Tell and my mom.” When Ben lifted a questioning brow, Brandt shook his head. “No fuckin’ way will I let Landon live with my father.”

“And how does Aunt Joan feel about that?”

“We’re on the same page, since she’s sneaking outta the house one day a week to watch Landon as it is.”

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“She’s takin’ care of him at her house on Tuesdays, but on Thursdays she tells dad she’s volunteering for some church thing when she’s really at my place.”

“Why the lie?”

“Because my dad…” He took a drink of beer. “Mom told me she had to go out for an hour and when she got back, Landon was screaming bloody murder in his crib to the point he threw up all over himself.

Seems my dad just sat on his ass in the living room and ignored him. Dad’s excuse? The kid needed to learn early on that he wasn’t gonna get his way by screamin’ his fool head off.” His father’s justification was seriously scary shit. “Jesus. Landon is barely more than a baby. And my dad’s attitude is Landon is acting manipulative? At seventeen months?”

Ben pointed with his beer bottle. “How would it be bad if you ended up bein’ Landon’s guardian? I mean, it’s obvious you care about the kid.”

He didn’t answer. Didn’t know how to without coming across as a pansy ass whiner.

Ben whistled again. “This has to do with Jessie, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. I’d have to choose, Ben. And how the fuck do I do that? Choose between the only living part of Luke I’ll ever have or the only woman I’ve ever…” He scowled. Way to be a pansy-ass.

“I ain’t gonna point out the obvious end to that statement, but maybe you’d better tell me what’s goin’

on with you and Jessie? And how long has it been goin’ on?”

“Since the moment I saw her.” Brandt drained his beer. Ben uncapped a fresh one and set it in front of him. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Keep talking.”

“You sure you wanna hear this? It’s old news.”

“Maybe in your family it is, but I’ve never heard it.”

“Luke and I were at the Devil’s Tower Rodeo and Jessie was there. I noticed her first, something about her just…hit me. Anyway, like a total dumbass, I pointed her out to Luke. And Luke, bein’ the handsome fuckin’ cowboy charmer he was, got to her first, which meant I didn’t stand a chance. So over the next month I had to listen to every goddamned detail of how Luke seduced her. Don’t get me wrong, Luke liked her, probably because she was so different from the type of women he usually dated.”

“Meaning what?”

“She wasn’t trashy or wild. I think Luke saw a lot of our mom in Jessie. I also think he would’ve gotten tired of her, but he knocked her up. They got married, she lost the baby, and then my brother started stepping out on her.”

“Fuck that. I’m sorry Brandt, but that’s bullshit. If he didn’t wanna be married to her, he should’ve asked for a divorce.”

“That’s what I told him. And Tell told him. And Dalton told him. Hell, my dad kept tellin’ Luke to divorce Jessie, too, but Luke took extreme joy in doin’ the exact opposite of what Dad wanted, as often as possible. Jessie was caught in the middle. So was I.

“Cut to me stepping in and tryin’ to fill Luke’s shoes after he died. So about a year later, I spilled my guts to her—yes, I was sober—and goddamn if she didn’t give me the ‘friend’ speech. I licked my wounds and tried like hell to erase her from my memory by becoming the wild McKay I’d never been.”

“But it didn’t work?”

“Not even fuckin’ close. After she agreed to help me take care of Landon, things have changed between us. In a good way. Now I’ve got her in my life and in my bed and I don’t want it to be a temporary fling. But it won’t happen if I become Landon’s permanent guardian. So yeah, I’m fucked.” Brandt swallowed a drink of beer. “Ain’t ya glad you asked?”

Ben laughed. “As the McKay World Turns, huh?”

“Yeah. I’m just glad all this shit isn’t common knowledge with our McKay relatives, although they can probably put the pieces together now that Luke’s illegitimate love kid has surfaced.”

“You might be freakin’ out over nothin’, Brandt. From what I understand, Samantha changing her mind is the worst case scenario.”

“True. But in my experience? It’s always the worst case scenario that plays out.”

Ben returned with another beer for himself.

“So…got any advice?”

“Nope.” He swigged his beer and then grinned. “That’s not exactly true. I’m more of an observation type guy, so I’ll tell you how I see it. You’re asking yourself what you’d have to sacrifice to keep her. But why wouldn’t she have to sacrifice something in order to be with you? Unless she owns up to a few things, seems you’re back to being a in one-sided situation and she still has all the power.”

Going round and round with this was pointless. Brandt switched gears. “What the fuck happened to Chase in Dallas?”

“You saw him getting tossed into the air and that bull dancin’ the cha-cha on his back?”

Brandt nodded. “If he ain’t still pissing blood after that kidney shot, he’s got my vote for Iron Man of the Year.”

“He’s got my vote for dumbass of the year. Here he’s havin’ the best year of his career and he had a chance to finish in the top fifteen at the world finals. After that last wreck, the sports med doc warned him to drop out. He did, but in his free time while he’s supposed to be healin’ up, Chase has gotten into some…compromising positions with a couple of buckle bunnies. Naturally, their phones had cameras and they caught the whole raunchy performance on video. Which they posted on YouTube. Get this: He’s already got a huge fan club, but since this happened, his PR woman can’t keep up with the media requests for interviews. The women are freakin’ out about seein’ the almighty, bull riding great Chase McKay…buck-assed nekkid.”

“First I’ve heard of it. What’s Chase doin’ about it?”

“Lapping up the media attention like the whoremonger bad boy he is. Which means the idiot is still goin’ out every night, getting drunk and getting laid. I ain’t upset he pissed away the world finals by getting on a bull he had no business getting on, but if he doesn’t take his rehab seriously, he’s gonna end up with a permanent injury.”

Brandt believed Chase would get his shit together, but he also understood Ben’s concern for his little brother. “Tell said you guys are headed to Vegas for the NFR?”

“Yeah. I hadn’t planned on goin’, but since Tell is doin’ the judges course, I can stay with him. Plus, Chase is gonna be there, and he’s so fucking scrambled he wants to talk to the PRCA folks about what they’ll do for him if he switches to the PRCA bull riding program. Quinn can’t go beat some sense into him because Libby has her hands full with Adam and Amelia, so I’ve been drafted.”

“If Quinn needs help while you’re gone, have him holler.”

“Will do.”

“I better head out. Thanks for the beer.”

“Don’t mention it. Anytime you need to bend my ear again just come on by. Quinn’s preoccupied with Libby and the kids these days, and Chase is never around. I spend most of my day talkin’ to the damn cattle or my dogs, so I appreciate you stopping by.”

Brandt never considered that Ben might be lonely. God knew he’d be lonely if Tell and Dalton suddenly developed other interests. “Will you be around for poker night? It’s at Cord’s, which means we’ll have good eats while he’s kickin’ our ass.”

“That sly fucker won eighty bucks from me last time.”

“Here’s some advice for you, cuz. Stay away from the poker tables while you’re in Vegas.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because your poker face is for shit.”

Ben smirked. “Or maybe that’s just what I want you guys to think.”

Chapter Fifteen

Jessie was chopping green peppers for the batch of Spanish rice when Brandt pulled up. He’d been gone longer than she expected. But she wouldn’t grill him about it because she remembered how crazy Luke got if she’d asked him too many questions.

Brandt is not Luke.

No kidding. She’d barely scratched the surface on learning what made Brandt tick.

Sex, definitely. Lots of sex. Lots of juicy, hot, mind-blowing sex.

Brandt stepped into the tiny entryway to take off his coat, boots and hat. In that order. Then he looked at her with the dimpled smile that made her belly flutter. “Hey. That smells good.”

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